Writers’ brains completely fascinate me. Not in a zombie eating way, but a building an admiration society way. I love sitting down with writers to learn about their background and process because it makes me fall in love with this craft more and more. To me, writers are the brain of this industry and the uber-talented, up-and-coming, writer Jenna Wycoff is no different. Straight out of school she dove into the writing world first as a literary agents’ assistant and then as the assistant to the executive producers of MTV’s Awkward, Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler and she has continued to move up in this industry ever since. Stay tuned to learn more about this incredible brilliant-brained woman!
So lovely to chat with you Jenna. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you become a writer?
At the end of my college career I mentioned to my boss at my internship that I was looking for a job after I graduated and she kindly allowed me to stay there for a month while I scrambled for a job. I was at wit’s end because I was applying for absolutely everything and out of the blue I got an email from an old professor who said that he knew of an assistant position open at a lit agency.
Did you know that you always wanted to be a writer?
I always knew that writing was where my joy is. Regardless of whether that meant being in development or working on a show, I knew that the writing side of things was what made me happy.
How did the agency track go?
Well, I stayed there for two years but the whole second year I was looking for a new job. I knew three or four months in that this was not the business for me because if I had a script that I didn’t like, I really couldn’t sell it and I didn’t want to do clients a disservice.
With my boss’s blessing I started applying for loads of jobs again and I got really close on several of them but then one day one of my friends runs into my office and says that Alberghini and Chessler just got the showrunner gig on Awkward and I should apply to be their assistant right away. So all of this is happening super quickly and I run into my boss’s office and we type up an email to Chris and Mike and over the weekend they agree to meet with me.
So when I finally meet with them I had gotten to a point after so many other interviews that I decided that I was just going to be myself, 100%. I decided to drop the “super professional Jenna” and just be the most me I could be. When the interview wraps up Chris says, well of course we have to meet with other people and I blurted out, “well you won’t find someone as charming as me.” It was completely spontaneous and I thought I killed my chances but the next day they called to say that they didn’t want to meet with anyone else and the job was mine if I wanted it.
Go you! That is so incredible. So what did that job entail?
Well I was their first hire for season 4 even before the other writers so I helped them read resumes and material and set up meetings. I was the support staff for everyone. Season 4 bled into season 5 and then I took some time off to have a baby.
Congrats on the baby! How long were you home with her?
I was home with her for 8 months and Mike and Chris kept checking in with me and keeping me updated on their projects and then one day they called and said that they were working on a new show (Daytime Divas) and this show had a script coordinator position that was mine if I wanted it.
Wow. Talk about good work begets work. That’s wonderful!
Yes, totally. That is what I am doing now and they have just been awesome bosses. They are super collaborative and they love empowering others. For example, on season 4 of Awkward MTV decided to develop some web content and I created pitches for the content and wrote two of the mini episodes. Then for season 5 I asked if they were doing web content and MTV said no so I asked if I could write an episode, which was totally intimidating but the thing that made me go for it was I knew the guys on our staff would ask for it no problem, so why shouldn’t I ask for an episode.
That’s incredible. What do you do as a script coordinator?
I am basically the liaison between the production office in LA and the production which films in Atlanta. All the scripts come across my desk and I make sure that they fit in with the production schedule and are typo free. I love that I just get to ingest good writing all day because it totally helps me put good work on the page.
What is the biggest thing you have learned as a writer?
When you’re unemployed and trying to make it in the business, before you’re working on someone else’s show (before your first writing gig), you have to learn to write for yourself. And if you love what you’re writing it will be wonderfully evident in your work. Once you get on someone else’s show, their perspective and preferences very much dictate what goes on the page. Lots of young writers desperate for their “big break” put on the burdensome yoke of “what the business wants” and their writing suffers for it (and subsequently their emotional lives, and careers). Embrace the creative freedom of being, per se, a self-employed writer!
Throw away other peoples’ expectations and just create for yourself because if you don’t like what you are writing it is going to totally show up on the page. Don’t feel like your work is dictated by the business, the only person you have to answer to is yourself.
To watch Jenna’s career blossom you can check her out on IMDB.